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The Supercommittee Fails; Should We Care?

It is now universally being predicted that the Congressional “Supercommittee” that was set up as part of the debt ceiling compromise last summer will fail to reach agreement on a proposed $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, spread over a ten year period. The committee’s theoretical deadline is Wednesday; realistically, however, it would probably have to announce a deal tomorrow, as it would take CBO two days to score whatever proposals might emerge.

This is no surprise. My Washington sources have been saying for some time that the Supercommittee will come up with nothing, since the Democrats have decided that their political interests are best served by failure. That assessment is being proved correct. The question is, should conservatives care?

There is gnashing of teeth among quite a few conservatives because under the debt ceiling deal, if the Supercommittee fails to act, the $1.2 trillion in savings will be achieved by reducing defense spending and discretionary domestic spending (no cuts to Social Security and only nominal cuts to Medicare) equally over the ten years from 2013 to 2022. Military experts say that such spending reductions would imperil the national defense. Therefore, many conservatives are criticizing John Boehner for agreeing to a deal, when the default terms are so unfavorable.

My own view is that there is no reason to take seriously any statute that purports to tell us how money will be spent in 2022; or any time after the coming fiscal year. No Congress can bind future Congresses, and history tells us that such long term spending measures are meaningless. Five or ten years from now, Congress will spend whatever it votes to spend, wherever it votes to spend it, regardless of what the debt ceiling deal says. Have you ever dusted off a ten-year-old budget and compared it to actual current spending? It is an interesting exercise: there is no relationship whatsoever. There is nothing deader than last year’s budget.

In this case, concern about the future implications of the Supercommittee’s failure is especially silly, since the supposedly mandatory cuts don’t even begin until 2013. The whole thing, in my view, is a bluff. Republicans shouldn’t take the bait. The GOP stands for limited government, lower taxes and less spending. If these goals can’t be achieved through negotiation with the Democrats–and it is no surprise that they can’t–then the case must be made to the voters, every two years starting next November. What taxes and spending will actually be between now and 2022 depends on what the voters decide.

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